One day you wake up and find that your street is filled with garbage, you want to go to a beach nearby and that’s also filled with garbage, you then travel to a forest reserve nearby which is also filled with garbage! After having travelled so much, you want to relieve yourself but alas! There are toilets but with no proper utilities for you to relieve yourself; because there is no water! What will you do then?
Many of us are aware that the problem with garbage and sewage is a human-made problem, but we feel helpless as we think that there is no other alternative. Vishnu Priya, from Chennai, is making ‘Meel’ – a documentary which focuses on sustainable solutions that can be employed to tackle the above problems.
Vishnu Priya has used her savings and travelled across India to study about this enormous problem. Some of her good friends have also contributed immensely for the documentary. She has put her heart and soul into this documentary. The story of ‘Meel’ began when a friend told Vishnu Priya that in many government schools, girl children drop out of school once they hit puberty because of lack of toilets. Thus began her search to understand why there is lack of toilet facilities in so many government schools. She was very shocked when she comprehended from her observations that in some cases, toilets were not built and in some cases, they were kept locked, and the reason for this zeroed onto the fact that no water is made available.
Being an architect, she got thinking about this and if she could design a toilet which would require less water to function, thus enabling girls to continue going to school.
Vishnu Priya was born and brought up in a middle-class family in Bombay and Kenya for most parts. She pursued her Architecture in Chennai. Her only experience with village life was during her visits to her grandmother’s village during holidays. She never saw the harsh difficulties that many people face in their day to day life. It came as a big surprise to her when her friend told her that a healthy young girl in a village had died unexpectedly and later on, traces of faecal deposits were found in the tissues of her body. Since her house didn’t have a toilet, it seems that she would very frequently control her urge to relieve herself in the wilds leading to her death. Vishnu Priya’s head started to reel with the thought that it’s not just a corner case phenomenon but that it’s a widespread problem. Women do not have safe access to toilets either at home or in the school.
She was researching on designing toilets which would use very little water when she came across eco-san community toilet in Musiri, near Trichy. She visited the place and was surprised to find ‘that not only is there a proper eco-friendly toilet model but the Town Panchayat is also segregating garbage, into wet and dry waste’. The former undergoes composting to become field manure and the latter is further segregated and sent for recycling. The town Panchayat, as a result, looks very clean in comparison to other towns and cities. She says “I had seen mountains and mountains of landfills everywhere, but this experience was an eye-opener”.
During her visit, the NGO employee showed Vishnu Priya a stone plaque with the names of many IAS officers who had visited this garbage compost yard. Vishnu Priya says “I asked him when so many IAS officers have visited this place and have seen its success, then why aren’t they implementing it in other places?” I did not get helpful answers.
She then decided to make a small video of Musiri’s compost yard to share it on her social media handle, but slowly it grew and became a documentary project. She visited several towns and villages across the country and saw some unique sewage treatment methodologies and solid waste management techniques. The solid waste management at Kurudampalayam was an eye-opener. She says, “Though there is exemplary work happening in some parts of the country, by and large, there is not much awareness on how garbage is eating away our society”.
In the course of this journey of making the documentary, she has put her personal life and architectural career on hold. Her parents are very supportive but worried just like every other Indian parent about her marriage and career prospects. She says “This journey over the course of last two years has changed me. I no longer find happiness in material possessions. I have stopped buying products like soaps, shampoos etc. which do not exist without plastic packaging. I make my own body and hair wash. I have stopped using disposable cups and plates, and I carry my plate and spoon when I go out so that I can avoid using disposables. I don’t buy any product that comes in plastic packaging. Since most products in supermarkets come in plastic packaging, I opt to buy from local Kirana shops. I have stopped being a consumer and believe in the principle of reducing, reusing and recycling staunchly”.
Vishnu Priya believes that the problem of waste disposal has become all-pervasive not just due to the lack of policy and accountability from the government and civil administration but also because we as citizens do not take this problem seriously and do not contribute. For successful large-scale implementation, it is essential that all cogs in the wheel run smoothly. For example, if a household segregates waste, the municipality van which takes the garbage should also have provision to carry segregated wastes separately and then to finally handle them wisely.
We as Indians also need to be responsible tourists she says. When Vishnu Priya visited Leh, she found that foreign tourists are entirely okay to adopt dry toilets, we Indians are not ready to understand the topography of Ladakh and are asking for wet toilets. While there are cultural reasons for using wet toilets we must be prepared to adapt to the environmental needs when required. She hopes awareness will help us do the same.
She is hopeful that her endeavour to create awareness among people will yield positive results. Though Vishnu Priya has opportunities to continue being in the filmmaking space, she wants to make ‘Meel’ a part of her life’s work. She wants to establish it as a community organization and continue to create awareness about the “garbage and sewage problems” through various means such as events, workshops, etc. and wants to work on community inclusion on these issues. She will also practice architecture but earth architecture! Earth architecture is the most natural form of architecture which doesn’t use concrete or cement but uses mud and stones. They are powerful, reduce energy consumptions and are in real, green buildings.
We, at logical Indian, wish Vishnu Priya best of luck for her current work on ‘Meel’ and all future endeavours. If you wish to support Vishnu Priya and her work for ‘Meel’, please help in completing her documentary. Find details here ‘Meel’.
Vishnu Priya can be reached for any information related to documentary here:[email protected]